Food Safety News
Employees of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are getting the first changes in 10 years in how they go about getting permission to speak to outside groups — ranging from their kid’s local scout troops to national conventions. And it might just make it harder to get a green light for such outside appearances.
The new FSIS directive became effective Thursday, replacing the version that took effect May 17, 2005. It applies to all federal inspectors of meat, poultry, eggs and other agency employees over how they must handle any speaking request from any outside or event, no matter how innocent.
The new directive says the reason for the newly revised policy is because of changes in how FSIS tracks requests, including how employees must submit information to a computer system that is not available to the public, and how requests will be approved or denied. It also provides updated examples of meetings, special events, and outside entities, along with more government abbreviations.
FSIS employees are told on one hand that the agency is “committed to participating in meetings, conventions, and other events by outside entities when necessary to support FSIS’s mission,” while at same time warning them of “scheduling and resource conflicts” for the agency that might make getting approvals problematic.
A “Meeting Attendance System,” a web-based system closed to the public, is going be used by the FSIS Office of the Administrator (OA) “to eliminate duplication of speakers or participants, to ensure consistency in messages delivered at the event, and to use Agency resources more effectively.”
The new policy does not apply to communicating with elected officials and the media nor do they apply to FSIS meetings for recruitment, training and development. Both of these fall under their own policy directives.
To get permission to attend a public meeting or other outside event, FSIS employees need to make a case that participation helps the agency’s initiatives or program needs. It also helps if the employee can show that the travel budget covers the event and that other personnel are available to cover while the event-goer is away.
Separately, the new directive also has ethical guidelines that must be addressed before attending any event. FSIS leaves it to program administrative assistants to provide the authorizations after they are also approved by their immediate supervisors. But, even then, the OA in Washington, D.C., can step in with a denial if “the request is not consistent with the Agency mission or is not an effective use of Agency resources.”
The new directive ends with screen-by-screen instructions of how to use the meetings system.
The most recent FSIS policy directive for agency employees communicating with elected officials, their staffs, and the media is five years old. It says that the FSIS communications policy is based on maintaining “confidence and trust in our Agency’s food safety mission … .”
That directive is based on a centralized policy of running most inquiries through the agency’s Congressional and Public Affairs Office whether the inquiry comes from Capitol Hill or the media.
The FSIS directives make it clear that any USDA employee is free to speak out as a private citizen on their own time as long as they make it clear they are not speaking in an official capacity. However, in a question-and-answer section, employees are advised not to provide information to congressional offices with questions, but rather direct them to call Congressional and Public Affairs.
As for the media, the directive gives the same advice if the FSIS staff member is asked to do a television interview, radio talk show, or answer a question in a public meeting.
The number of Campylobacter cases has leveled off in Europe, while Listeriosis is still on the rise, according to a report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
The European Union Summary Report on Trends and Sources of Zoonoses, Zoonotic Agents and Food-borne Outbreaks in 2013 released this week summarized disease surveillance in 32 European countries. The data help the European Commission and EU Member States to monitor, control and prevent zoonotic diseases.
Campylobacteriosis was the most commonly reported zoonotic disease in 2013, but, after several years of an increasing trend, the human infections have stabilized. Chicken was the main source of the pathogen, according to the report.
Salmonellosis fell for the eighth year in a row, with a 7.9-percent decrease over 2012. The report attributes this to Salmonella control programs in poultry, and most Member States met their reduction targets for prevalence in poultry.
Yersinia cases also continued to decrease, with a 2.8-percent reduction over 2012. Yersiniosis is the third most commonly reported zoonotic disease in the EU, with 6,471 cases.
Listeria cases increased by 8.6 percent between 2012 and 2013, while Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) infections rose by 5.9 percent.
“The rise of reported invasive Listeriosis cases is of great concern as the infection is acquired mostly from ready-to-eat food and it may lead to death, particularly among the increasing population of elderly people and patients with weakened immunity in Europe,” said Mike Catchpole, the chief scientist at ECDC.
And the rise in reported VTEC cases may have been an effect of increased awareness in European countries following the 2011 outbreak of E. coli O104:H4.
A total of 5,196 foodborne and waterborne outbreaks were reported in the EU in 2013. Most were caused by Salmonella, followed by viruses, bacterial toxins and Campylobacter.
Officials in Norway have announced that nation’s first-ever case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the neurological disease in cattle more commonly known as “mad cow disease,” according to Reuters.
The disease was found in a 15-year-old cow that had been slaughtered for food, but no portion of the cow reached the consumer food system. The Norwegian Food Safety Authority is telling citizens it is safe to eat beef and drink milk.
Officials are also saying that the disease was not transmitted via the feed supply and there is no associated outbreak.
The first known case of BSE occurred in the U.K. in 1986. Since then, more than 150 people in the U.K. have fallen ill and died from the human counterpart to BSE, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD).
The disease originated with the practice of feeding cattle meat and bone meal to cattle herds as a substitute for soybeans, which can be difficult to grow in Europe.
Humans can contract vCJD from eating meat contaminated with brain or spinal tissue from cattle infected with BSE, which is not destroyed when cooked.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced plans to ease regulations on beef imports in regard to BSE. The U.S. has banned beef imports from Europe since 1998 due to mad cow scares.
The latest USDA move would align the U.S. with international policies on BSE, while potentially opening up U.S. beef exports to new markets. The U.S. was recently adjusted to the safest classification for BSE risk, according to international standards set by the World Organization for Animal Health.
The most recent case of BSE in the U.S. occurred in 2012 in a California dairy cow which had developed the L-type BSE as in the latest German case. The other three U.S. cases occurred in 2003, 2004 and 2006.
Another 19 BSE cases have occurred in Canada, the first being a 1993 case in a cow imported from the U.K.
In the U.S. and other countries regulating BSE, cattle feed can no longer contain the meat of other ruminant animals. USDA runs a surveillance program for BSE, and slaughterhouses are required to remove the brains and spinal cords from all carcasses.
No doubt about it, food recalls can be hell.
“I’ve never been through anything like this before,” Barry Bettinger, co-owner of Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream in Snohomish, WA, told Food Safety News, as he described the mental and emotional anguish that comes with a recall.
Not only do you worry about the people who have become ill, you also worry about how the situation will affect your family, employees and customers. Then there’s the harsh blow a recall can deal to a company’s reputation and its bottom line.
On Dec. 23, 2014, Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream, which Bettinger and his wife, , have owned for 18 years, issued a voluntary recall of all of its ice cream, gelato, custard and sorbet products. This included all flavors and container sizes produced on or after Jan. 1, 2014, until Dec. 15, 2014 — almost a full year’s worth of the company’s products.
That decision was prompted by the positive confirmation from the Washington State Department of Agriculture of the presence of Listeria monocytogenes, a foodborne pathogen, in samples collected from two products in the ice cream plant, as well as in environmental samples taken throughout the plant during a Dec. 15 inspection.
Listeria can cause serious illness — and can even be fatal — in vulnerable groups such as the elderly, the frail, and children. It can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths. Healthy people may suffer flu-like systems, such as nausea, diarrhea, and high fever.
The ice cream plant was shut down in December after state and local health investigators and the state’s Public Health Laboratories linked Listeria cases involving two 50-year-old Seattle men, who had consumed a high-protein shake mix made by the company, to the same strain of Listeria found in a sample of the company’s high-protein mix.
Bettinger said the voluntary recall was prompted by preliminary environmental testing that could not rule out Listeria.
“That’s why we pulled the trigger right away,” he said.
The two sickened men have since recovered, according to information from the state’s health department. No other illnesses have been connected to the company’s products.
State officials said it is unusual to find Listeria in an ice-cream plant. Even so, during the Dec. 15 inspection, about half of the swabs used by the inspectors turned up the same strain of Listeria that was soon after linked to the two sickened men. The swabs were used on surface areas, equipment, the loading zone, the loading dock, the hallway and the production facility.
(The Dec. 15 inspection was a follow-up inspection of one done at the plant on Oct. 15, which the company failed, scoring 87 when passing is 90 or above. Kirk Robinson, assistant director for food safety with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, told a Seattle Times reporter that the problems found in the October inspection weren’t deemed “critical,” so the plant was allowed to keep operating.)
Since the Dec. 15 inspection, the plant has gone through a major sanitation overhaul.
A silver lining
On. Jan. 23, 2015, Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream got the green light to reintroduce its products dated Jan. 20, 2015, or later, after state agriculture department inspectors found the premises to be free of Listeria.
“Their goal was to find Listeria,” Bettinger said. “They looked everywhere, but they couldn’t find any traces of it.” He added, “Now we have the safest ice cream plant there is in the nation.”
“This (the upgrade of the plant) is the silver lining in all of this,” said Shahnaz Bettinger.
The Bettingers said the recall will cost the company about $1 million.
The recall, far and wide
The company’s voluntary recall also affected ice cream shops and companies that buy their “ice cream base” from Snoqualmie and then add their own flavors. They, too, issued recalls and had to sanitize their premises.
In addition to the more than 1 million pints of ice cream — bearing names such as Mulkiteo Mud and French Lavender — that the company sells under its own label, it also sells tubs of ice cream to 150 hotels and restaurants. Among its customers are Whole Foods, Seattle’s Space Needle, and Fred Meyer.
The recall impacted a wide geographical area. In one form or another, the company’s ice cream was distributed in Arizona, Idaho, California, Oregon and Washington, and may have been further distributed and sold in retail outlets in Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
The ‘smoking gun’?
Bettinger said that when the state agriculture department inspectors swabbed the milk and cream totes that had come in from the company’s dairy supplier, the swabs looked “suspicious.”
“They found it (Listeria) on the totes that we hadn’t even touched yet,” he said. “The department said the root cause was the totes. It came as a shock to all of us.”
Robinson, the agriculture department’s food-safety official, told Food Safety News that the totes appear to be “the smoking gun.”
“There are a lot of places where things can go wrong,” he said. “We were scratching our heads about where this had come from.”
The problem with the totes is that they were, as a matter of course, taken to different places in the plant, including the landing dock and the main manufacturing part of the plant. So they were perfect vehicles for transporting the pathogen throughout the facility.
And, while the milk and cream were pasteurized before leaving the dairy processor, food-safety concerns in the dairy industry go further than the product itself. An example is the Food Safety Modernization Act’s proposed new rules focusing on the storage and transportation of dairy products. This includes loading and unloading operations, transportation, packaging and bacterial testing.
Robinson said that the agriculture department is continuing its investigation into the possible source of the Listeria, and, as part of that, will be going back to the dairy processor that supplied the milk and cream to Snoqualmie.
Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream has since switched dairy suppliers.
Seek food-safety advice
Still in a pensive mood a month after the voluntary recall, Bettinger said that the experience calls for a lot of soul-searching. In his case, he puts the blame on himself. His company was growing fast, he was working up to 70 hours a week, and he was relying on his production supervisors — instead of hiring a director of operations — to make sure things were going right.
Unfortunately, things weren’t going right, at least when it came to food safety. That became clear when the two Seattle men fell ill.
Bettinger said he would like to use what he has learned to help new food processors, as well as others who are already in the business, to avoid what he went through.
First and foremost, he said, seek food-safety advice from an expert. Bettinger said he discovered how valuable that can be when he contacted IEH Laboratories, which specializes in molecular epidemiology, for help.
“People definitely need to reach out for technical support,” he said.
Bettinger cannot say enough good things about the company, especially the help he received from consultant Sam Myoda.
Under his supervision, everything in the plant that wasn’t bolted down was removed. The site was scrubbed, raw materials were discarded, and new food-safety procedures were put in place to prevent the contamination from reoccurring.
This included training employees in food-safety practices, following a plan designed to pinpoint potential problem areas, buying new uniforms for the employees, requiring employees to wear hairnets and beard nets, and insisting on regular hand-washing.
Attired in boots, a white lab coat, a hairnet and a beard net, Bettinger was all smiles as he took off a pair of gloves and demonstrated some “serious” hand-washing. He said he was excited about getting new sinks that can be activated by knee-pressure.
As part of the upgrade, the plant’s new epoxy floors are disinfected on a regular basis and a central sanitizing system has been installed. No water is used in the plant; everything is cleaned with a disinfectant.
The company has also adopted a test-and-hold policy which requires that test results come back before a product can be released into the marketplace.
In short, there has been a total reset of the facility.
Key to all of this, said Snoqualmie’s marketing director, Samantha Hill, is embracing a company-wide culture that makes food safety a top priority. Yes, production and sales are important, she said, but you can’t ignore how important food safety is every step of the way.
State food-safety official Robinson agrees.
“Food safety is very much in the eyes of the consumer and needs to be a priority for companies processing farm products,” he said. “It’s in the forefront of everyone’s scope.”
Don’t leave food safety behind
Bettinger also warned that when a company starts growing, the owner needs to realize that he or she can’t do everything. At that point, he said, it’s important to make sure someone is tasked with the job of making sure food-safety practices are being followed.
Robinson takes a similar view.
“It’s very unfortunate, but we’ve seen that as companies grow, they can miss something obvious that might be right in front of them,” he said. “Sometimes important food-safety procedures don’t keep up with growth.”
And, like Bettinger, Robinson advises companies to get outside guidance about sanitation and then re-evaluate those sanitation procedures as a company grows.
“You have to have some really good procedures in place and follow them to the letter,” he said.
Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream, which has a loyal following, has long been respected for its focus on quality and sustainability. According to its website, it uses primarily locally produced ingredients. The lavender in its ice cream even comes from the company’s mini-farm.
The company states that its ice cream, which is made in small batches, contains the highest cream content of any premium ice cream. In addition, the company offers comprehensive benefits and pays for additional education whenever possible.
Bettinger said he’s gratified to see that his customers have stood by him.
“No one has dropped us,” he noted. “I think they appreciate that we issued the voluntary recall and how open we’ve been about everything.”
Aleias Gluten Free Foods LLC of Branford, CT, has issued a voluntary and precautionary recall of certain lots of its 8-ounce Parmesan Croutons and Classic Croutons because they may contain undeclared peanut protein. People who have an allergy to peanuts run the risk of a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products.
The recalled products were distributed nationwide in grocery stores and through web orders.
The product is packaged in a brown cardboard box with white text. The Lot Number can be found on the window side of the package. All potentially affected lot numbers are as follows:UPC Code Product Description Lot Numbers 8 55930 00162 3 Aleias Gluten Free Parmesan Croutons 8 oz. 410221, 413121, 416021, 417221, 419211, 510110, 514210 8 55930 00161 6 Aleias Gluten Free Classic Croutons 8 oz. 410221, 413121, 416021, 417221, 419211, 510110, 514210
This recall was initiated due to the possibility of undeclared peanut protein in the cumin provided by a third-party supplier. There have been no consumer complaints or reports of allergic reactions to date.
Customers who have purchased the affected product should dispose of it or return it to the place of purchase where they will receive a refund. Consumers with questions or concern may call Aleias Gluten Free Foods at 203-488-5556 during normal hours of operation (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., EST).
Arcadia Trading Inc. of Brooklyn, NY, is recalling all packages of Red Thread Fish because they are uneviscerated. The product comes in a 7-oz. heat-sealed plastic bag.
The potential for contamination was noted by New York State Department of Agriculture inspectors during a routine inspection. Subsequent analysis of the product by Food Laboratory personnel confirmed that the fish was not properly eviscerated prior to processing.
The sale of uneviscerated processed fish is prohibited under New York State Agriculture and Markets regulations because Clostridium botulinum spores are more likely to be concentrated in the viscera than any other portion of the fish. Uneviscerated fish have been linked to outbreaks of botulism poisoning.
Symptoms of botulism poisoning include blurred or double vision, general weakness, poor reflexes, difficulty swallowing and respiratory paralysis.
No illness have been reported to date in connection with this problem.
Consumers who have purchased 7-oz. packages of Red Thread Fish are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact the company at 718-782-6888.
Health officials in Dalhart, TX, are trying to figure out what’s causing a surge in Salmonella infections, which, as of Thursday, reportedly totaled a dozen cases.
“Dehydration is the biggest risk, so some people have to be hospitalized to get intravenous fluids,” said Janet Wilson, the hospital’s director of infectious diseases. She added that Salmonella infection is typically transmitted by an animal product such as meat, poultry or eggs.
The Texas Department of Health is checking for commonalities between those sickened regarding travel, food, or animal contact.
Two Florida Democrats are again trying to pass bills to label some foods containing genetically modified organisms. Similar efforts died last year in the House and Senate agriculture committees
House Bill 351 and its companion, Senate Bill 416, would require 25 raw fruits and vegetables to carry labels if they contain GMOs. Wheat, corn, cotton, papaya, rice, zucchini and squash would be among the targeted products.
HB 351 is sponsored by Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) and SB 416 by Sen. Jeremy Ring (D-Margate).
Both bills require the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to annually update the list to include produce that is grown in genetically modified form. The new requirements would take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.
Any product containing recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to increase milk production in cows would also require mention on labels. It sets up a independent nonprofit to do testing and orders the state ag department to “prominently display” annually updated lists of so-called “high risk” fruits and vegetables on its website.
The industries targeted by the bills, including Florida produce, are expected to aggressively oppose them again this year. There have not been any votes on either of the bills yet. Both were assigned to multiple committees and subcommittees on Wednesday.
The Colorado House of Representatives will vote today on a bill banning the manufacturing and sale of powdered alcohol in the state. The legislation also provides an exit ramp for getting out of the very prohibition it would enact.
Before House Bill 1031 passed out of the House State Affairs Committee on Monday by a 9-2 vote, the ban on powdered alcohol was amended to include language which, in theory, could also make it go away.
It includes an automatic self-repealing mechanism if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “approves the use, purchase, sale, possession, or manufacturing of powdered alcohol in the United States,” and if the state “establishes and implements a mechanism for regulating the manufacture, purchase, sale, possession and use of powdered alcohol.”
The repeal clause, however, would likely become a circular exercise since alcohol, including powdered alcohol, is regulated not by FDA but by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
It was the application for powdered alcohol to be sold under the “Palcohol” brand, filed with Treasury, that sparked bills to ban it in as many as a dozen states.
The Colorado bill being voted on today mandates that a variety of research universities, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and hospitals report to the state by Sept. 1, 2015, if they have any intent to acquire powdered alcohol, or if they are currently in possession of it. Their research is exempt from the ban.
Possession by anyone else would be, if convicted, a Class 2 misdemeanor.
Today’s vote on a powdered alcohol ban is being seen as a bit schizoid by some. That’s because it comes in a state which, a year ago, became the first in the nation to make sales of recreational marijuana legal.
Alaska, Delaware, Louisiana, South Carolina and Vermont already ban powdered alcohol products, while several other states are considering their own bans. A one-sentence Florida bill has been introduced that would ban “Palcohol” until the federal government gives its final approval.
Reading “The Chain: Farm, Factory and the Fate of Our Food,” a new book from journalist Ted Genoways, one begins to wonder who is treated better: the millions of hogs consumed in America each year, or the people who work on the farms and in the factories that breed and slaughter them. The easiest conclusion to draw is that neither are treated well.
In Genoways’ own words, the book is “an attempt to calculate the true cost of cheap meat.” The book focuses on the production of Spam, the processed pork product from the Hormel Foods Corporation, to show the wide-reaching impact of industrialized meat production.
Based on the author’s reporting, that production has serious consequences on areas ranging from worker welfare and animal cruelty to water quality and food safety. A lot of the problems, it turns out, are associated with the ever-increasing slaughter line speeds at processing facilities.
Since 1947, two Hormel plants have continued to meet the demand for Spam, which is fatty, cheap, and spikes in popularity during economic downturns. After being approved for a pilot program known as HIMP through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Hormel was able to gradually increase line speeds from roughly 900 hogs per hour to more than 1,300.
At speeds this high, inspectors in the plants can do little more than visually check hog heads while sitting in a chair, whereas most inspectors are required to check the tail, head, tongue, thymus and viscera.
Food safety concerns arise, with Food Safety and Inspection Service officials apparently finding recurring zero-tolerance violations when hogs made it through processing with cancerous tumors, full-body inflammation and lesions from tuberculosis — not to mention the fecal contamination associated with foodborne illness. (At the same time, USDA recently reported that HIMP plants matched non-HIMP plants in terms of safety and wholesomeness of hog slaughter and consumer protection.)
The faster speeds were also blamed on numerous worker injuries, perhaps most worrisome a mysterious disease dubbed Progressive Inflammatory Neuropathy, or PIN. Starting in 2006, workers at Hormel began coming down with strange symptoms of degenerative nerves after being assigned to the brain station, where they would puncture hog heads to scramble brains into a slurry.
The process produced a fine pink mist of brain material with each puncture, which the workers would breathe over the course of long shifts. This mist was eventually blamed for their ailments, which for some included losing the ability to walk.
The book also details the struggle between white and immigrant neighbors in the communities where these plants are located, the towns of Austin, MN, and Fremont, NE. A generation ago, most employees at the plants were white and paid a salary that afforded a middle-class lifestyle. Today, that workforce has been almost completely replaced by Hispanic and Asian workers who are paid significantly less. Fremont recently passed a city-wide ordinance that requires home renters to swear they are U.S. citizens.
Genoways addresses animal abuse cases at hog farms that supply Hormel processing plants, including one that resulted in the conviction of six low-level employees who were caught beating and torturing animals by animal rights activists with undercover cameras posing as employees. The activists called those convictions “hollow victories” in one regard because no higher-up managers faced repercussions, but they did have some effect by leading to reforms on farms.
The undercover videos inspired another reaction: Hormel worked to support so-called “ag-gag” laws in hog-producing states — laws that make it illegal to record video or take photos on farms. Meat companies stand to lose billions of dollars in recalls, legal fees, and lost business when such abuses are captured on camera.
Also explored in the book is the history of using antibiotics to promote growth in pigs, a technique that was in part pioneered at the Hormel Institute, a partnership between Hormel and the University of Minnesota.
Giant hog operations produce a serious amount of manure — five billion gallons of liquid manure each year in Iowa alone, Genoways writes. That gets pooled into manure lagoons or added to crops for fertilizer, but the runoff can lead to significant problems with water quality for surrounding communities.
Combined with what some experts call abuse of antibiotics, the manure contamination has led to statistically higher risks of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, in people who live close to hog farming operations.
Today, Genoways writes, “it seems that we are not so much concerned with safety as promoting an illusion of safety.”
After winding through stories of animal abuse, contaminated water and sickened workers, the book ends by coming full circle back to Spam.
By volume, Spam is 27-percent fat. But because hogs are getting leaner and leaner, Hormel must now buy fat from other producers to add to its Spam recipe. And yet, since 1947, Hormel has managed to churn out the world’s supply of Spam from two factories.
In January 2014, the company revealed plans to expand Spam production to a third plant — the first Spam expansion in almost 70 years.
Washington Beef LLC of Toppenish, WA, is recalling 1,620 pounds of boneless beef trim product that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.
The following boneless beef product produced on Nov. 28, 2012, is subject to recall:
- 60 lb. bulk packs of “TRIM 65/35 (FZN)”
The problem was discovered during an internal records audit by the company, which notified FSIS. Product was shipped for further processing to a single grinding facility, then on for use in hotels, restaurants and institutions in Oregon and Washington.
FSIS and the company have received no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of this product. Consumers with questions regarding the recall can call Jay Theiler at (855) 472-6455.
FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks to verify recalling firms notify their customers of the recall and that steps are taken to make certain that the product is no longer available to consumers.
FSIS advises all consumers to safely prepare their raw meat products, including fresh and frozen, and only consume ground beef that has been cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees F. The only way to confirm that ground beef is cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria is to use a food thermometer that measures internal temperature.
E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause dehydration, bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps 2-8 days (3-4 days, on average) after exposure to the organism. While most people recover within a week, some develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This condition can occur among persons of any age but is most common in children younger than 5 and older adults. It is marked by easy bruising, pallor, and decreased urine output. Persons who experience these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have introduced bills in Congress that would establish a single, independent federal food safety agency.
Food safety oversight is currently split up among 15 agencies in the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Commerce. The Safe Food Act of 2015 introduced Wednesday in both houses of Congress would consolidate all the authorities for food safety inspections, enforcement and labeling into the Food Safety Administration — independent of any federal department.
The aim is to improve food safety for consumers, while also cutting back on the costs of a dispersed system with overlapping responsibilities between agencies — something Durbin noted, during a Wednesday call with reporters, should get the Republican majority to look at the legislation.
“There is a lot of duplication, a lot of waste, and we can save money and make America’s food supply even safer,” he said.
In an op-ed in The Hill, Durbin and DeLauro referred to food safety as an issue of national security.
“What the bill does is remedy the situation,” DeLauro said. “With a single agency, we believe our country will be able to have the ability to detect relatively minor problems before they become major outbreaks.”
The Act would provide the Food Safety Administration with mandatory recall authority for unsafe food, require risk assessments and preventive control plans to reduce adulteration, authorize enforcement actions to strengthen contaminant performance standards, improve foreign food import inspections, and require full food traceability to better identify sources of outbreaks.
DeLauro said the bill builds on the improvements made in FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The federal agencies that would be incorporated into one include:
- FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) and Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM)
- The resources and facilities of FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs that administer and conduct inspections of food and feed facilities and imports
- The resources and facilities of the Office of the FDA Commissioner that support CFSAN, CVM and inspections
- USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service
- The part of USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service that administers shell egg surveillance services
- The part of USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics mission area related to food and feed safety
- The part of USDA’s Animal and Plant Inspection Health Service related to the management of animals going into the food supply
- The part of the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Department of Commerce that administers the seafood inspection program
DeLauro said the consolidation would also eliminate interference with the agriculture promotion goals of USDA and trade goals of the Department of Commerce and enhance FDA’s other missions regarding drugs and tobacco.
A single food safety agency is not a new concept, and the two lawmakers have sponsored Safe Food Acts five times before, though the most recent was in 2007. In addition, the Government Accountability Office has reported on the need for better coordination of food safety activities over the years.
DeLauro referenced eggs as an example of the current food safety system’s fragmentation.
“One agency manages the health of hens, another oversees the feed that they eat, another sets egg quality standards but does not test them for Salmonella,” she said. “While still in its shell, the egg is the responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration, but once it’s processed into an egg product, it becomes the responsibility of Food Safety and Inspection Service.”
In her statement of support for the bills, Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that, “It’s crazy to have one cabinet secretary in charge of chicken, beef, and pepperoni pizza, and another cabinet secretary responsible for eggs, milk, and cheese pizza.”
“A single food safety agency would allow us to better focus our resources where the greatest risks lie,” said Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. “The Safe Food Act is a strong vision for the future of food safety.”
Moving forward, Durbin and DeLauro said they will work to build bipartisan support for the bills. Current cosponsors of the Senate Safe Food Act include Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Cosponsors in the House include Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), James Langevin (D-RI), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).
On Feb. 3, the Federal National Council of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is scheduled to take up a tough new food safety law, including jail time and fines, for anyone found guilty of endangering food safety. The council is the UAE’s highest legislative body.
The 21-article bill would regulate food production both inside the country and from imports.
“The draft law deals with food safety of both man and animal and it will tighten control on the food supply chain by using international best practices,” said Rashid Al Shuraiqi, chairman of the committee that did the drafting. He said the committee did a thorough local and international reference study in drafting the bill that he expected will fill many existing loopholes.
Ahead of the drafting work, the UAE declared food safety a top government priority. The goal is to improve the quality and safety of food while reducing incidents of foodborne illness among the country’s 10 million residents.
Under the new law, a conviction for endangering food safety would carrying a jail term of up to 3 years and a fine of up to 2 million Emirati Dirham (Dh), which translates into about $544,000 in U.S. dollars.
Key provisions of the new law include:
- No food may be imported without first obtaining the approval of the Ministry of Environment and Water.
- No false or incorrect food labels will be permitted, with fines ranging from Dh 10,000 to Dh 100,000.
- No pork or alcohol products or ingredients are permitted without permission, and anyone who does may be subject to one month in jail and fines of up to Dh 500,000.
About 80 percent of the food consumed in the UAE is imported. Dealers of food confiscated under the new law would also face fines of Dh 100,000 to Dh 300,000, plus up to two years in jail.
If the council adopts the proposed food safety bill, it would then go to UAE President Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan for his final endorsement.
Despite being the number-one producer and consumer of rice in the world, more Chinese citizens are buying rice imported from Japan and elsewhere due to fears about heavy metals and other toxins, according to Reuters.
While the amount of rice imported to China from Japan in 2014 is still extremely small, it was triple the amount imported in 2013.
This news comes on the heels of revelations in 2013 that rice imported to the U.S. from China and Taiwan was contaminated with dangerously high levels of lead.
Other studies out of China in 2013 and 2014 found that 44 percent of rice samples contained excessive levels of cadmium, while 16 percent of Chinese soil was contaminated.
Imported Japanese rice can cost up to 10 times the price of domestic Chinese rice. Some Chinese are buying rice from Thailand as another alternative, though studies have shown significant levels of lead in Thai rice.
According to the Wall Street Journal, China is also importing enormous supplies of rice to meet demand. The country was projected to import 2.2 million tons of rice in 2014, while it produced 143 million tons itself.
The U.S. imports about 7 percent of its rice supply, according to CBS News, though imports of rice and rice flour have doubled since 1999.
In 2011, a study linked rice sold in the U.S. to high levels of arsenic.
China has suffered a series of food safety scares in recent years, some of which have caused consumers in the country to turn to certain imported products over their domestic counterparts, including imported infant formula and milk.
Neither Belgium nor the European Union has any specific regulations regarding breeding and marketing insects for human consumption, but the trade is tolerated. And why not? Insects, according to the Scientific Committee of the (Belgium) Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain, “offer great potential” as alternative sources of dietary protein.
The agency is out with “Common Advice” about the food-safety aspects of insects, a 22-page paper validated by the country’s Superior Health Council. It suggests that, while there are about 1,500 to 2,000 edible insect species in the world, and that, in some regions, they’ve been eaten by human for centuries, there isn’t much scientific literature on the food safety of insects.
“To guarantee the food safety of entomophagy on a large scale, more research on the microbial and chemical safety of insects destined for human consumption is needed,” the agency’s Common Advice paper states.
The paper addresses “the potential microbial, chemical (including allergens) and physical hazards specifically related to the consumption of insects … .”
“These hazards depend on the insect species, the cultivation conditions (feed and environment) and the subsequent processing, and can largely be controlled by the adequate application of the prevailing good hygiene and manufacturing practices during breeding and marketing of insects,” it continues.
“Nevertheless, a heating step before consumption is indispensable as well as the mentioning of appropriate storage and preparation conditions on the label. The label should additionally contain a warning for a possible allergic reaction of persons allergic to seafood and/or dust mites.”
In their study of insects for human consumption, Belgian researchers centered on about a dozen species that were marketed in the country in 2011. They included: house crickets, greater and lessor wax moths, litter beetles, buffalo worms, silk moths, banded crickets, field crickets, African migratory locust, American desert locust, yellow mealworms and super worms.
The paper acknowledges that “eating insects is rather uncommon and often considered strange,” but it also points out such common uses as cockchaver soup containing May beetles in France and Germany and other local uses are examples of common insect consumption.
“Considering the problems that occur in the production of animal proteins concerning the environment (climate, environmental hygiene, biodiversity), the world food issue (food supply, animal production efficiency, third world problems), excessive consumption, etc., alternative sources of food proteins are becoming increasingly important,” it states.
Europe’s novel food regulations, requiring risk assessments, apply to insects that were not habitually consumed prior to May 1997. Belgium is unlikely to relax those regulations unless changes are specifically called for by the European Commission.
The administration is expected to release its full 2016 budget proposal next week, but a fact sheet released Tuesday provided a blueprint for investments in fighting antibiotic resistance — an issue it referred to as “one of the most pressing public health issues facing the world today.”
More than $650 million for the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority would support the development of new diagnostics and efforts to characterize resistance.
More than $280 million would go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support antibiotic stewardship, outbreak surveillance, antibiotic use and resistance monitoring, and research and development related to combating antibiotic resistance.
Another $47 million for the Food and Drug Administration would support the evaluation of new antibacterial drugs for humans and animals.
Antibiotic research and surveillance funding at the Department of Agriculture would nearly quadruple to $77 million to help in finding alternatives to antibiotics, including improved management and animal care practices.
And the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense would receive $85 and $75 million, respectively, to address issues related to antibiotic resistance in healthcare settings.
Efforts to improve surveillance capabilities will include increasing the number of CDC’s Emerging Infections Program sites from 10 to 20, enabling the DoD to collect ongoing and enhanced antibiotic use and resistance data, establishing a network of regional laboratories to characterize emerging resistance and identify outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant organisms, and creating an Antibiotic Resistance Isolate Bank.
When it comes to antibiotic-resistant zoonotic and animal pathogens, the White House said that increasing their surveillance is “essential to understanding what bacteria may ultimately generate outbreaks that impact human and animal health.”
The administration estimates that, over the next five years, its efforts in dealing with resistance will reduce the incidence of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae infections by 60 percent, reduce the incidence of Clostridium difficile infection and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bloodstream infections by 50 percent, reduce the incidence of multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas infections acquired during hospitalization by 35 percent, and reduce the rate of multi-drug resistant Salmonella infections and pediatric and geriatric antibiotic-resistant invasive pneumococcal disease by at least 25 percent.
“Judicious use of antibiotics is essential to slow the emergence of antibiotic resistance in bacteria and extend the useful lifetime of effective antibiotics,” states the fact sheet. “Preserving the usefulness of antibiotic resources without compromising human or animal health requires coordination, cooperation, and engagement of healthcare providers, healthcare leaders, pharmaceutical companies, veterinarians, the agricultural and pet industries, and patients.”
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and the Keep Antibiotics Working coalition praised the commitment to investing in stewardship, surveillance and developing new antibiotics, but remained critical of FDA’s Guidance for Industry #213, which asks animal pharmaceutical companies to remove growth-promotion claims from medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals.
“If the FDA continues to allow industry to police itself under a voluntary policy, the misuse will continue to create superbugs that even new antibiotics may be unable to treat,” Slaughter said. “It doesn’t matter how many new antibiotics we develop — until we put limits on unnecessary agricultural antibiotic use, we will get the same results.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a final update Tuesday on the 2014 Listeria monocytogenes outbreak linked to bean sprouts which killed two people and hospitalized five (four from Illinois and one from Michigan).
The agency declared the investigation over and noted that, as of Nov. 7, 2014, Wholesome Soy Products Inc. of Chicago, IL, has closed its facility and ceased production and distribution of sprouts.
Wholesome Soy Products recalled mung bean sprouts last Aug. 28 after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) isolated Listeria bacteria from samples during a routine inspection. Subsequent FDA inspections in August and October 2014 found unsanitary conditions at the company’s facility.
Whole genome sequences of the Listeria strains isolated from Whole Soy Products’ mung bean sprouts and environmental isolates collected at the firm’s production facility were found to be highly related to sequences of Listeria strains isolated from the five people who became ill between June and August 2014, CDC noted.
“Although limited information is available about the specific sprout products that ill people consumed, the whole genome sequencing findings, together with the sprout consumption history of two patients and inspection findings at the firm, suggest that these illnesses could be related to products from Wholesome Soy Products, Inc.,” CDC’s report stated.
The agency recommends that consumers, restaurants and other retailers always follow food safety practices to avoid possible illness from contaminated sprouts. Children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind, CDC stated. These include alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean sprouts.
CDC advises people to reduce the risk of illness from potentially contaminated sprouts by cooking them thoroughly.
A strain of avian flu has been found at a Foster Farms turkey ranch in Stanislaus County, CA, the company announced this past Saturday. It’s the first time the virus has been found in commercial poultry since 2004.
According to USDA policy, the ranch was quarantined and the animals are being killed to prevent the virus from spreading to other commercial and migratory flocks.
The Modesto Bee reports that federal agriculture officials said the strain is H5N8, which is not known to harm humans.
Foster Farms said that the discovery was due to its “ongoing early detection program for avian influenza as part of its stringent testing and biosecurity program,” and that no poultry products in the marketplace have been affected by the outbreak.
At least 68 countries have placed restrictions on imports of U.S. poultry since avian flu strains were found in backyard chicken and guinea fowl flocks in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
According to the American Shrimp Processors Association (ASPA), which supports the bill, S. 190 increases inspection standards on foreign imported seafood, requires foreign exporters to meet U.S. safety standards, mandates increased inspection of foreign imported seafood, imposes penalties on foreign exporters who fail inspections and safety tests, and imposes stiff fines on those who attempt to mislabel their products.
“Our industry has battled waves of unfairly traded shrimp from overseas for many years,” said ASPA Director David Veal. “Many foreign countries producing farm-raised shrimp may not use the same safety standards as required in the U.S., as such, unapproved chemicals and antibiotics may find their way if the product ships to the U.S. for consumption. This potentially puts consumers at risk.”
Vitter’s bill has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Last month, something unprecedented happened that rocked the chicken industry’s world.
Perdue contract farmer Craig Watts decided he’d had enough. Together with my organization, Compassion in World Farming, he released a video that gave the public a unique view into the secretive world of the chicken industry.
He revealed what the National Chicken Council (NCC), USDA, and Perdue mean by “humanely raised” and “cage-free”: 30,000 chickens stuffed into a windowless warehouse, on feces-ridden litter, made to grow so big so quickly that they can hardly stand on their own two legs.
Consumers were outraged. More than half a million people viewed the video in the first 24 hours alone on YouTube. Media coverage was widespread, led by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s hard-hitting piece. Perdue’s Facebook page was inundated with fuming customers who felt betrayed.
Watts revealed a truth that the chicken industry, like ostriches with their heads in the sand, refuses to acknowledge. Americans don’t want factory-farmed chickens. And they certainly don’t want USDA to put a stamp on it calling it humane and cage-free.
Hours after the release, Perdue turned up at Watts’ farm to conduct a surprise animal-welfare audit, the first he had ever received in his 22 years of raising chickens. Perdue handed CIWF’s video over to the “Center for Food Integrity’s” panel of industry spokespeople to review the footage.
CFI’s CEO Charlie Arnot has made clear the purpose of the “review panel.” He stated, “This program creates an opportunity for animal agriculture to re-frame the public conversation related to undercover video investigations.”
Predictably, CFI’s “re-framing” was to blame Watts for poor management. Industry press regurgitated the panel’s review. Feedstuffs, a farming newspaper, stated that the “video misrepresents the broiler industry” and grasped at straws, trying to blame selective editing of the film and poor management.
They failed to check Watts’ history and records. Not only are the conditions of his farm within industry norms, but Watts has been awarded by Perdue as a top producer.
But the public was not to be fooled again. Consumer Rickie Colonna posted this on Perdue’s Facebook page: “Nice retaliation against a farmer who wants his unhealthy chickens to see the light of day. I will never buy Perdue again.“
In the weeks that followed, Watts had six visits in total from Perdue. More than 22,000 emails were sent by consumers to supermarkets across the country asking for better treatment of chickens. Letters of encouragement poured into CIWF’s office, thanking Watts for his efforts and hoping other farmers might do the same.
With the eyes of the media on Perdue and Watts receiving pro bono legal counsel from the Government Accountability Project, his contract with Perdue has been kept intact — so far.
Watts risked everything to tell this story. He risked his friendships with his neighbors, his livelihood and his future for his family. He had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Instead of condemning Watts, the industry could learn from his courage.
The chicken industry is presented with two options. One is to continue to blame “farm management” as the culprit every time a video comes out revealing the cruel realities of factory farming. This approach clearly backfired in this situation. Trying to silence farmers who question the status quo is not an effective way to win Americans’ trust.
The other is to listen to what consumers, and Watts, are saying. Go beyond the NCCs anemic guidelines, beyond keeping animals in windowless, barren, packed warehouses, on feces-ridden litter, with genetics that result in crippled, inactive birds. If the industry doesn’t take its head out of the sand soon, the chasm between it and its customers will only continue to grow.